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5 Pro Tips to Elevate Your Professional Persona (While Still Maintaining Your Individuality)

per·so·na /ˌpərˈsōnə/ noun  The social face a person presents to the world; “a kind of mask, designed… to make a definite impression upon others.”

Source: Collected Works of C.G. Jung, Volume 7: Two Essays in Analytical Psychology. Edited by Gerhard Adler and R. F. C. Hull, Princeton University Press, 1966. p.190.

As I detail in an earlier post, your professional reputation is built upon the characteristics and values you demonstrate day in and day out, which I believe ties back into the qualities and inherent values that provide the foundation for how you live your life.

And while it can take very little time to build a negative reputation—and years to change that reputation—you can begin to build a positive reputation by cultivating your professional persona, taking a cue from the world’s most revered leaders, and figuring out how to integrate what you stand for into your daily activities and behaviour.

If you’re feeling like you need to level up your professional persona as a creative freelancer, enlist these five pro tips to put your best foot forward:

#1. Be considerate of time.

While common courtesy dictates that you arrive on time, go one step further and show up early to meetings and calls! It’ll give you time to read prep material, focus yourself, and review the points you want to make and the outcomes you hope to achieve from the meeting.

Pro tip: Set each of your clocks ahead a different number of minutes between five and 10, so your brain won’t be trained into knowing how far you can push your timing.

#2. Be prepared.

It astounds me how many people try to “wing it” through meetings. In reality, lack of preparation can make you look like an idiot—and can lose you business, too (remember: reputation matters!).

  • To do: Do your research; review the material; formulate your fact-based argument; and, share your own documentation either prior to or within 24 hours of the meeting/call.

Pro tip: Create a cheat-sheet with top stats and points you want to make. (That cheat-sheet might even become the next client one-pager!)

#3. Sleuth your way to success.

If you’ve followed Step 2, you’re prepared. But how much do you actually know about the company you’re doing work with or its people? Why is this important? The more you know about the company and its people, the more valuable you can be to them, the better your relationships will be, and the more business you’re likely to receive from them as a result.

  • To do: Read through the company’s entire website (i.e., don’t just skim their home page). When searching, look at the first couple pages of search results (not just the top results, which are typically paid ads, meant to drive a specific perception of the company and its brand). 

Pro tip: Go the extra mile to search for the company’s leaders. Look for details like previous employers/roles and publications that the person may have written or was mentioned in. Also: Look them up on social media: Find out if they’re a dog- or cat-person, whether they like coffee or tea, if they like to travel… All of this will help you have better conversations and make stronger connections with your contacts over time.

#4. Review before signing off.

Yes, we’re all busy and no one wants to spend more time in a meeting than they necessarily have to. But you’ll be demonstrating good overall time management skills if you take two minutes at the end of each discussion to summarize what you believe you learned and confirm your next steps. This helps to set mutual expectations on the work to be done and also, solidifies the discussion in everyone’s minds.

Pro tip: Dictate a numbered list of takeaways and then, a list of follow-up items. (Note: It doesn’t have to be a formal declaration; you can even do this as your client walks you to the door).

#5. Follow up within 24-36 hours.

This gets missed so consistently that it bears repeating: After a meeting or call, email the participants about next steps. Why is this important? First, it further solidifies your relationship, and also, if you’re new to working with the group, it provides your contact info, so they can easily reach out to you. Second, you’ll gain agreement on what’s expected of you from the relationship and can help to uncover scope-creep. Finally, it’s just a respectful and honest way of doing business.

Pro tip: Keep it short and sweet, please! But do—
*Thank participants for the insights you gained from their comments. (No need to list insights or people one by one. Just indicate your thankfulness…)
*List each person’s next steps as you understand them, including specific deliverables and ETAs. (If you’re feeling extra keen or are an Excel or Google Docs pro, why not create a workback schedule?!)
*Give them “an out”—if they understood any of the next steps differently, ask them to document via email to the group, so everyone’s in the loop.
*Sign off with a memorable line or words—not “best” or “regards” (too generic) or “yours” (too personal).
*Include an e-signature!!! (I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to search for someone’s cell number because they didn’t include it in their email. Ugh…. big-time pet peeve!)

At the end of the day, putting your best foot forward as a freelancer comes down to the work you do and how you present yourself in the public eye.

Many creatives choose the freelance life for the freedom it gives them, including how they represent themselves and their own unique personalities. But remember: You can still maintain your individuality while presenting a positive and professional persona that entices new and recurring clients into your roster.

Next steps:

What do you do to cultivate your professional persona? Or—do you have any pet peeves of working as a creative freelancer? I want to hear about your experiences! Leave a comment below.

Until next time, keep on truckin’,

Ruthy Z

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The Value of Reputation in Your Freelance Business (A.K.A. Reputation as a Pull Strategy)

honesty | discipline | hard work | initiative | mutual respect | connecting people | being a good human being

About a year ago, on a five-hour, cross-country flight, when I should have been preparing for the meetings I would have once the plane landed, I found myself musing on my relationship with the client whose work I was travelling to complete. After reviewing the ups and downs over the years with said client, I documented the 20 fundamental things I stand for as a professional freelancer, a business owner, and ultimately, a human being trying to make my way in this world.

Now, six years into my freelance life (and those, after more than a dozen years in the professional arena), I believe that if you were to poll people I’ve worked with, they’d say that what makes me “me”—as a colleague, a manager, a business partner, a service provider—is that I hold myself to a very high standard that’s built upon personal characteristics like honestly, discipline, strong work ethic and mutual respect.

I’ve built a reputation based upon what I stand for.

This reputation has kept me steadily working, if not too busy at times, these past six years. And I can say with pride that up until the last year or so, about 75% of my business came from three main sources: former colleagues; former clients; and referrals from former colleagues and clients.

The remaining 25% or so comes from organic search and social media channels, including my website, LinkedIn and Twitter, where I maintain a regular but low-intensity presence. Otherwise, I do very little marketing and promotion, and have yet to advertise my services in any formal way.

And still, I’m as busy as I want to be.

How does this work? Simply, how you conduct yourself and the reputation you develop among your peers sticks with you from job to job, career to career. Demonstrate that you’re a hard worker who has respect for colleagues and clients, and you’ll become known for that behaviour. Likewise, show that you’re willing to cut corners or throw people under the bus, and you’ll also develop a reputation for such characteristics.

In this way, then, a strong reputation can work as a “pull mechanism”—something that attracts people to you, both personally and professionally. And it might just be one of the easiest and least expensive marketing tactics around! If your reputation is built upon your innate personal qualities and the things you stand for, then it takes little investment to nurture that reputation and put it out into the world in an organic way (i.e., just by being yourself!).

A “pull strategy” aims to get clients to come to you, rather than going to them. It typically works best with highly visible brands, or where a solid brand reputation has already been developed. A common example is using social media posts to build one’s reach and demand among new clients.

What’s important to understand about this: Professional reputation goes both ways; clients (or prospects) have reputations that affect how business gets done, just the same as freelancers and service providers. I’ve experienced clients behaving badly every step along my career:

  • treating contractors like less-than-human beings;
  • bad-mouthing other service providers, colleagues or people in general;
  • quibbling about fees even while receiving competitive rates and great value…

As much as possible, I want to work with people who live by the same credos as I do. And when I live by my own values, I’m better able to find those like-minded professionals who do the same. (I swear to you, those people are out there! It’s taken a whole lot of trust—something I continue to try to cultivate!—but time and again, I’ve proven to myself that professional, honest and respectful partners are out there and need my particular form of art/skill/magic.)

A positive reputation is the pull, when other promotional activities are a push.

If you’ve built a positive reputation for yourself, people you’ve interacted with along your journey to freelancing will want to work with you, even if you’re a “business of one.”

Try it:

Take the time to consider and then document the “things you stand for.” This could be strictly from a professional perspective, or if you’re like me and you put a lot of yourself into your work, you could cast the net wider, to consider your personal qualities and how those play into the way you do business.

For reference: Here’s the list of 20 things I stand for, broken out by personal and professional qualities.

A list of 20 things I stand for as a professional and a human being, broken into 2 columns of 10 bullets each